I’m still gill deep in thesis-land and so have been avoiding books. To keep me from falling down novel rabbit holes I reward myself for reading about “Metacognitive Learning Strategies In Second Language Acquisition” by letting myself read a short story or novella every now and then. Here are some high and low lights:
Guys and Dolls and Other Writings – Damon Runyon
I can’t believe I’ve never read these stories until now. They’re kind of corny mainly because they’ve been riffed on to the point that their originality is buried under decades of imitation. But when you get over the corny, there’s a lot to love.
Stories – Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
A fun collection of grim stories. I’m not done with it yet, but so far some highlights have been: “Blood” by Roddy Doyle – A weird horror story about a modern day 40-something Irish banker that suddenly finds himself obsessed with the idea of drinking blood. “Fossil-Figures” by Joyce Carol Oates – Creepy story of the relationship between twin brothers from their birth to their deaths. It’s not a horror story, but it uses a horror story’s tone, and is really quite well done. “The Truth is a Cave in The Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman, which would be a drive-to-the-story story in less talented hand, but here it’s a story of vengeance set during the era of Border Reivers.
Fantasy – Edited by Sean Wallace and Paul G. Tremblay
Once upon a time Fantasy was a print magazine that became a webzine that became part of another webzine called Lightspeed. This book collects stories from the print era all the way back in 2007. We were all so young then… It’s a good collection too with stories that presage later trends but aren’t harbringers yet, so they’re still weird and crunchy and have odd bits poking out from them. A fun read if you can track it down
And now the not so good…
The Last Defender of Camelot – Roger Zelazny
Zelazny’s a weird author that I know I should like more than I do, but I don’t. What I think the problem is, is that I come to Zelazny too late and all those spots where he’d sit comfortably I filled with other writers. So I read him and think things like, “that was a pretty great story, I’ve seen other people write better.” Maybe it was the collection. This book’s volume X in the collected short fiction of Zelazny, and maybe more completest than a highlight reel. As it was I finished the book thinking how Zelazny’s a great writer of bad stories that I don’t much like.
Chess Story – Stefan Zweig
Weird novella from 1938 about a chess match onboard an ocean liner between a rustic, crude savant and an obsessive doctor who’s recently escaped from the Nazis. It’s fairly straightforward, but with something ominous underneath it.
Sir Orfeo – JRR Tolkien
It’s weird to think that the medieval European world had no idea what the Iliad was about and had to make do with oral accounts that they reskinned with their own reality, so Achilles is a knight and the Trojan War like the Crusades. Sir Orfeo is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus where Eurydice gets abducted by the King of Fairy and Orfeo’s a king that renounces his crown to become a minstrel. It offers both Mythic McMedieval Feudalism and splendid and profane secrets.
The Cyclops Goblet – John Blackburn
Pulpy thriller about a conman and his wife getting wrapped up in a scheme to steal a hoard of Renaissance gold hidden on a plague-ridden island off the coast of Scotland. Loathsome characters, plenty of double crosses, and a page count that guarantees events move along at a fast clip. It’s a Valancourt reprint. Check it out.
The City and The City – China Mieville
I kept reading this expecting something horrible to happen that never quite did. I appreciated that. This is a great weird thriller that might not be genre but it’s certainly genre adjacent, where the best bits of it read like Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side dragged forward and left gasping for breath in the 21st century. A detective in an Eastern European country tries to solve a murder case that sends him to a different Eastern European country that happens to be his own viewed from a different frame of mind.